Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Writing Retreats: The Writer's Secret Weapon

by Annette Lyon

I'm a huge proponent of writers finding snatches of time to do their work, especially for moms, whose lives revolve around little people, and for anyone else with full-time job. Without some of my secret weapons for finding those snatches, I wouldn't have gotten published, and I wouldn't have written anything long enough to be called a book.

But at times, we writers need a bit more, and that's where writing retreats come in. Think of them as one of those booster packs in a video game. A couple of days away, holed up somewhere, where you do nothing but write, and ZOOM! you're thousands of words ahead.

Mini Retreats
Also known as writers conferences. Stay the night at the hotel. Get there the day before the conference begins if you can, and write that night. Then write at night after the workshops, before you go to bed. Write in the morning. Write whenever you can sneak it in.

Low-Impact Retreats
Another way I've have had mini (yet very productive) retreats that are relative low-impact on my family is the method four of the Precision Editing Group editors did while working on our Newport Ladies Book Club series (Heather, Julie, Josi, and me).

For those retreats, we went away for one night only. Our children are all in school now, so this type of retreat was particularly good for us at this stage. I got the kiddos off for the day, then left with my suitcase and computer.

The four of us then met at a library and wrote until late afternoon, when we took a break for a late lunch/early dinner. Then we checked into a motel (cheapest we could find in advance) and wrote until our brains melted (around midnight), using Mountain Dew and trail mix to stay awake.

Around 7 AM, we'd be awake and writing until check-out. I was always home by noon or earlier. All in all, I was gone one night and (as far as family impact goes) less than a full day.

Refreshing and productive all at once!

Full-fledged Retreats
For the last two Novembers, I've attended a 3-night retreat sponsored by the Author's Incognito online group. (All of the pictures below are from this year's retreat.)

The basic idea here is that a group of 20 or so people combine forces to rent out a cabin. Everyone gets food assignments for easy-to-prepare meals, and while there, each writer signs up to make and clean-up a meal with a couple of others, leaving everyone else time to write.

The AI retreat typically has writing sprints, where a timer is set and everyone cranks out as many words as they can in, say 20 minutes. The winner gets a prize. (I won a necklace that says "Believe" on it for winning the first sprint!)

For the AI retreat, we arrive around noon on Thursday and write through Saturday night. Come Sunday morning, we have time to get up, pack, clean the cabin, and check out.

On Your Retreat:
Make a game plan in advance. Cranking out words is much, much easier if you already know what happens next. Come with a list of scenes. A big list. Yes, even you pantsers. I'm not talking about a hard and fast outline, just bullet points you can use to keep going, jump around to write depending on mood, and otherwise use for being majorly productive.

Be prepared to focus, not chat. As hard as it is to not chat with friends (and I've been guilty of that at times), this is your time to write. Get to work. If you must, wear noise-canceling headphones and listen to either music you can focus to or white noise. My favorite white noise generator is Simply Noise. I use the app for when I may not have internet access with simple ear buds.

Award-winning novelist Michele Paige Holmes writing away with her noise-canceling headphones.

Plan breaks. Get up and walk around. Stretch your back. Get a drink. I know some writers who set timers to write for 25 minutes, then break for 5. That method has increased their output significantly.

Bring snacks. It's truly amazing how much easier it is to stay focused, butt in chair, when you aren't suddenly hungry. Have a water bottle. And don't forget to pack your laptop cord!

Other items on my must-have list (See the picture above. That was my writing spot.):
  • Research, character, and plot notes. I use a manila folder.
  • Blanket, socks, and sweaters (I run cold, and somehow cabins are always a bit on the cool side in November.)
  • Laptop bag, mouse, cord.
  • Pens and a notebook.
  • Lumbar pillow. (Note the black and pink happy-face pillow, made by my then 3rd grade daughter.)
  • My green Theracane (to the left of my laptop) for massaging knots from my neck and back.
  • Medications and supplements. (I don't do well without my thyroid!)
  • Kindle, book, or magazine. To reward yourself with a little down time. 

Late-night break for brain food. Nom, nom!

Obviously, most of us can't up and leave for a retreat on any kind of regular basis, but if you can manage one of some kind once a year, you'll come home invigorated  more excited about your story, and pumped up that yes, you really are a writer!

1 comment:

Donna K. Weaver said...

And don't forget the periodic mini-lessons on writing. Thanks for taking the time to prepare those.

Happy Thanksgiving.